(photo: Bobby Banks/WireImage)
When a dedicated follower of the Kinks, Luke Skywalker (aka Mark Hamill), went to Hollywood’s Roxy Theatre on Nov. 3 to see the band’s guitarist Dave Davies perform a solo show, he had lots to tell his old friend. But the one thing Davies wanted to know most of all was something Hamill couldn’t divulge.
“I’m a huge fan of Star Wars, so I asked Mark what happens in the movie [The Force Awakens],“ says Davies from a cozy diner near his home in Northeast New Jersey. “He said, ‘I can’t say anything to anybody. I’m scared that if I talk in my sleep someone might hear!”
Davies and Hamill have been friends since they met after a Kinks show in the ‘70s. Last year, when celebrities across the globe challenged one another to film themselves having buckets of water dumped on their heads to support the fight against ALS, Hamill performed the act clad in Kinks shirt. Then he passed the baton to Davies and the rocker responded with a video in which he dumped Star Wars action figures over his head instead of water.
“I love Mark,” says Davies, pouring a cup of tea from a steaming pot. “I think maybe playing the good guy in Star Wars might have been limiting to him. It’s more beneficial to your career to play someone who is part good and part bad like Han Solo, because the entire color of your character is far more interesting. There are more shades there, and I think maybe Mark suffered from that.”
Davies speaks from experience. Though the Kinks’ early popularity rivaled that of the Beatles, the Kinks were never as fun-loving or frivolous, and from the start the band’s relationship was fraught with tension that stemmed from sibling rivalry.
The Kinks in 1964 (photo: Hulton Archive)
“The competition between me and [brother] Ray [Davies] was always there, and when it worked it was a healthy competition,” Davies says. “But we’re very different people, thank God! We both have very different views of how things should be done. And he can be very dismissive of my ideas. And that starts so many arguments.”
To the public, the volatility made the band more interesting. They also happened to create fantastic music. Soon after they formed in 1963, the Kinks became one of the most popular groups of the British Invasion, and their appeal lasted for years, even as they experimented with various styles: pop, blues, singer-songwriter, and theatrical narrative rock. Not only did they land five top 10 U.S. singles over 24 albums, along the way they inspired a wide range of bands, including the Clash, the Ramones, Van Halen, Blur, and Oasis.
In 1996, the Kinks broke up after one fight too many. The Davies brothers went their separate ways, and while each released solo albums, toured, and talked smack about one another, the entire time the band’s fans hoped the feuding siblings would mend their differences and get back together. They seemed to be getting close in 2003, and then in 2004 Dave Davies suffered a stroke, putting a temporary hold on his entire music career.
Through determination, spirituality, and exhaustive physical rehabilitation, Davies regained his ability to walk, talk, sing, and play guitar. He released and toured for three solo albums, and now that he’s back in fighting shape, he’s feeling nostalgic about the Kinks again. At the same time, London’s West End theater district is staging a musical Ray Davies wrote about early history of the Kinks. Dave Davies says producers and promoters are discussing bringing the show to the U.S., though nothing is official yet.
In addition, the Davies brothers continue to work with director Julien Temple to fine-tune the movie script for the biopic You Really Got Me, which tells a grittier, less romantic story than Sunny Afternoon.
“I’m very excited about the film,” Davies says. “There’s a lot of backstory that goes with shooting the script that is taking us a long time to sort out, but we’ve agreed that the preliminary location shooting will start in March, which is great because we’ve been working on the script for seven years.”
In other words, the chess pieces are as well-positioned as they’ve been in more than a decade for a real-life Kinks reunion. During an early-afternoon conversation, Davies opens up to Yahoo Music about his renewed excitement about old Kinks material, the musical experiments that enhanced the band’s critical success but marred their commercial appeal, the strange chemistry that made the Kinks one of the most compelling English bands, and the astrological factors he feels contribute to his and Ray’s fiery relationship.
YAHOO MUSIC: The newly released Kinks compilation Sunny Afternoon: The Very Best of The Kinks features original recordings of the songs in the West End musical, which takes the band through the early ‘70s. Do you still enjoy that material?
DAVE DAVIES: I really do. It’s funny, when I got back from tour from L.A. in November I had this sudden urge to play Kinks catalog. There’s something about those old recordings that’s very exciting to me. The minimalism is great. We only had a certain amount of time when we made those songs, so the guitars are slightly out of tune and the piano is not quite right, but there’s all these happy accidents that happen in the moment that you can’t contrive. We had to do it all really quickly and keep the first ideas we came up with, but it really worked. I was playing through “Autumn Almanac” [recently] and it’s a phenomenal recording. You can understand why it has lasted so long.
Surely, it was more than spontaneity that made those songs classic.
I’ve had so many debates and conversations with fellow musicians and engineers. There’s that intangible thing in the air that happens from time to time, and it’s all-important to the feeling of a recording. When you’re young and you do things quickly, you don’t always really know what you’re doing until afterwards. It just comes together: “OK, Dave, I’ve got an idea. We need a riff. We gotta do this! You do that! Let’s go!” It just naturally comes together.
You were 17 years old when the Kinks exploded worldwide. Did the experience live up to the dream?
It was fantastic! Those first three years, I dove right in. There was pop art and music and the clothes. We were finding our identity and the clothes were just as important in carving our character as the music. Me and [founding bassist] Pete [Quaife] loved fashion. Pete was a graphic artist who worked for a magazine called The Outfitter, which was in Charing Cross in [London’s] West End. He designed all kinds of strange stuff and it was all part and parcel with the music. It seemed like one amazing party. We met quirky, interesting people, there were girls galore, fashion and music coming out of the walls.
Any memorable stories from that era?
The first shows the Kinks did with Gerry & The Pacemakers and the Hollies were crazy. In the West Country in Tottenham there was a hotel where me and Gerry Marsden started a fight. We were really annoyed because they closed the bar early. I started swinging from a chandelier. I actually don’t remember a lot of the craziest stuff, because of all the drink and drugs that were involved.
Did the indulgences lead to friction between you and Ray?
The drugs and drink actually helped to keep us alert and excited now and again, but there were a lot of times they didn’t help at all. It was like throwing craps. You win some, you lose some, but you’ve got to play the game. Yeah, of course there were fights, but nobody talks about the great times when we got on well together. It’s boring. The fights stand out. On one tour, we were in San Francisco on the last gig. I was so tired and wanting to go back to England. Ray made some jibe about me onstage, so I threw my guitar at him. It was kids’ stuff. He wasn’t hurt, but it set him off. He jumped on me and there we were fighting onstage and then we stormed out of the theater.
There was an incident in 1965 at the Cardiff Capital Theatre in Wales when drummer Mick Avory attacked you onstage. Legend has it, you kicked over his drum set the night before and he retaliated during the show by smacking you with his high-hat, which left you unconscious and requiring 16 stitches.
When you’re on tour, people get on each other’s nerves. Everything they do seems to be done to upset you. Even the way they use a spoon to eat can be really irritating and seem malicious. It’s like, “Hey, why are you eating that way?!? You should do it this way!” That incident was a literal explosion of resentment and anger and just being exhausted. The [record company] used to really work us. Every month or eight weeks we’d be back in the studio recording a new single.
What was the breaking point for you?
One night I nodded off at a party and woke up and saw all these decadent people running around. I had a vision of being a circus clown. I thought, “What are we doing?” We were going from day to day to day like performing seals. And that’s where I got the idea for [the 1967 single] “Death of a Clown.” I went back to me mum’s house with the same old out-of-tune piano and I plunked out three notes, and it turned into the song.
The Kinks were incredibly prolific.
Through all the ups and downs, me and Ray were spoiled with the luxury of ideas. He’d come up with something and I’d come up with an idea that complemented his. And it would be like – bang, bang, bang, bang. But inevitably we would also start banging heads. “What are you thinking? I don’t want to do it that way!” Sometimes it got a bit ugly. I’ve seen grown men, recording engineers, crying watching me and Ray have a go at each other because it’s dysfunctional family bulls— that happens, and a lot of people have gone through the same thing with their families.
Over the decades, the Kinks explored psychedelia, commercial pop, blues, theatrical concepts, and driving rock 'n’ roll…
When me and Ray grew up, we got all these records from our sisters. We had six sisters and they all had their favorites, whether it was Fats Domino, Perry Como, or someone else. We were bombarded from a young age with this beautiful music. And then along comes Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran. The other day I was playing “Come on Everybody” by Cochran, and it sounds like now. And Chuck Berry is the most influential guy of my generation. We were so inspired by everything we heard and we tried to take it all in and make our own thing.
“You Really Got Me” was groundbreaking not only in its blunt, garage approach, but also because of the distorted sound of the guitar.
It had to have a big, big impact on bands when they started out. And so many people refer to it. They tell me, “Oh yeah, I remember when I had my first guitar and I learned that.”
You achieved the amp tone by cutting a speaker cone with a razor. Was that a scientific process that involved trial and error, or was it more of a spontaneous gesture?
I did it out of an act of rage. I very emotionally upset that I broke up with my girlfriend and I had a razorblade and I just started to slash up the speaker cone of my amplifier. I didn’t even expect it to work when I played it, but it did and it made this crazy buzzing tone, so we plugged it into another amp and it sounded amazing. It was a complete accident.
The Kinks are certainly rock 'n’ roll legends. Why didn’t achieve you the commercial success of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or the Who?
We had peaks and valleys. A lot of the reality of the Kinks’ music isn’t about success. If we had success, well then, that’s great, but we were never be afraid to fail. How can you do anything if you’ve got that fear of failure? The only time we really learn anything about ourselves is when we f— up. And the Kinks were supposed to be the Kinks, not the Beatles. The Beatles wrote some phenomenal stuff, but they were only together around five years. And 1996 was our last official Kinks concert. We were touring and playing and searching for all those years. People liked some of it and they’d get inspired by it.
You were a phenomenon in the U.S. for a few years, and then you started addressing more singularly British subjects that the American mainstream didn’t relate to.
It’s interesting, isn’t it? I think it’s because things like “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” “Well Respected Man,” and “I’m on an Island” are these little quirky songs that reflect the essence of the English mentality. Blur and Oasis and these people understood them and went in a similar direction. It’s a cultural thing, really. But a lot of Kinks fans I’ve met on the road – old ones, medium ones, and young ones – find the quirky things really valuable and inspiring. That’s the thing about art. You’re trying to make a connection, give people new ideas, and stimulate and inspire them.
What was your favorite era in Kinks history?
[Our 14th album, 1975’s] Schoolboys in Disgrace is a great album. At the time, we were so busy doing it and getting it out and touring and playing it. Over a matter of three years it was gone and we were doing something else. But when you draw this into the present, it’s like, “Oh my God, what the f— is this?!? How did we do that?” We’ve been very fortunate, Ray and I and the Kinks. We’ve had such a wealth of materials, ideas, and observations. We’ve been very good at following our intuition. That’s something you can’t really teach.
You have relied on spirituality and mysticism to achieve balance in your life. When did you start that path of discovery?
When I had a nervous breakdown in 1972, I had to do something. I was so paranoid and crazy because of all the drug abuse and the drink. Your body can only take so much. So I took up yoga and it took a year to get my f—ing head together. I found that the breathing techniques in yoga really center you. And faith was really important for me. It’s important to believe, whether you want to believe in a deity, an all-seeing god, or whether you believe in a stone. If it does the trick, who cares?
What do you believe in?
I’ve studied the Kabala, Shiva, metaphysics, ancient cultures, mythology, the Tarot. Astrology has always been big for me. I’m quite fascinated by the energy of Pluto, which we’ve only recently discovered. It’s a quantum thing, I think. It was always there. The mystics, Greeks, and other ancient civilizations knew this energy. But when scientists and astronomers recognized it, things started to change globally.
Does astrology factor into your relationship with Ray?
I don’t have any earth in my chart. I have a lot of water, a lot of air, a good chunk of fire. It’s about air and ideas, expansive stuff. And Ray’s very emotional. He has something curious in his chart. He has unaspected Neptune. I’ve always found that peculiar because there’s something very divine about it, but there’s also something really nebulous and vague. You can’t connect it and it won’t work. I think that has always been at the center of our relationship and our family and how different it is. If you look at most people’s charts, they’re all connected somewhere. But that’s not the case with Ray.
How did you bounce back after you suffered a stroke?
It was hard. I easily could have been six feet under. When you’re confronted with something that heavy or debilitating, you just stand there. You can’t do anything. I had to rely on my inner life. Your whole life is in the hands of something far greater than anything you can ever decipher. So you have to create and find tools, inner tools to build yourself back up. And the greatest tool we have is the imagination, and that helped me when I was trying to get better and play again. At first I went, “I can’t do anything. This is never going to f—in’ come together.” And then I realized that if I started thinking too technically, it was going to take me the rest of my life to relearn how to play. So I just got that attitude of, “Fix it without concentrating so hard.” And it fixed itself. I just did it. Once fear comes into it, you’re incapacitated. And that’s f—ing hard for whatever it is you’re confronted with. It’s back to this Shiva conflict. That’s where we live in areas of confrontation. Maybe we walk through the fire when we confront ourselves.
Are you and Ray getting along these days?
It’s been up and down. The last few conversations have been a lot better. But I never know what will happen. He knows I get pissed off and sometimes it can be a dynamic. When we were kids we used to play tennis, and if I was winning he would devise some sort of strategy to get me riled, because when you’re angry you can’t play. You’re so consumed with emotion. He used to get off on that.
Is it possible that the Kinks will reform to support the upcoming biopic?
It’s something to think about. I’m going back to England and doing a show in London and then I’m going to stay for Christmas. Hopefully me and Ray will be able to meet and chat about the whole thing and figure out what ideas and possibilities are still viable without being silly and doing more tours, which I don’t think anyone wants to do.
Do fans care more about a Kinks reunion than you do? Is it something you even think much about?
It does cross my mind often, really. But I have to see how Ray feels about it.
Ray has said in interviews that it’s up to you.
He does that. He likes to play with people. He can be very manipulative like that. But we’ll see.